Triathlon racing - how to plan your season

You may be asking yourself why I am writing about planning your triathlon season now, instead of waiting until the off-season?

Back in November, I wrote a blog about our racing season as well as 10 tips on planning your season. 

Although this blog was written just before the New Year, Karel and I actually discussed our 2014 season back in the Spring 2013. 

For triathletes who are choosing to do an Ironman, it's likely that you have to sign up in a year in advance. So if the Ironman is your ultimate goal (or a half IM), it is important to consider how you are going to plan your season. And you may want to consider your season planning before you register for your endurance race. 

I realize that a lot can occur in a year, most of which is out of your control especially if you are unable to plan for it to happen (or not happen). 

Over the past three years, I have been able to peak appropriately for my races (despite overcoming some obstacles along the way) all because of how my season was laid out for my body, my racing goals and my life (that of which I could control). 

If you are interested in reading any of my race reports from the past few years, you can visit my website to read more about how the races went down. 

But there are a few considerations that I would like to discuss to help you better plan your season. 

-It's very easy to register for a race, especially if it is new, your friends are doing it or if it is in a cool location. However, consider the timing of the race, where the race occurs and any logistics that may impact your racing experience. 

-If you are considering a long distance triathlon in Feb - June as part of your season, consider how you will prep for the race as well as any other races that will occur after that early season race. I find for many athletes, it is too early to peak appropriately for an early season race that occurs before late Spring and even if you race it for fun or as a tune-up, it's very easy to skip over important parts of a periodized training plan that will help you properly peak for the more important races later on in the year. Now, this may be no big deal to race in an early season race just for fun but also consider the time and money that you are spending on a "fun" race so early in the year and the impact that it may have on your more important, later season races. As an athlete, you have to think long term and not just stay in the moment when it comes to planning races. 

-If you are training indoors throughout the cold winter months, how many outdoor workouts will you be able to perform before your key race? These outdoor workouts with "real" course situations are very important to help with acclimating to the heat, dialing in pacing, nutrition and mental focus.  

-As mentioned before, an early season race may force you to skimp on base training (ex. speed work, strength work, weaknesses) and you may find yourself with a 1 month off season and then right into heavy training again. You need to build a strong foundation if you want to prep appropriately for your key race and you may find yourself a bit burnt out if you start your season training in Dec/Jan and have another key race planned for March and then another in Sept, October or November. Consider putting your key races within a 14-16 week time frame so that you minimize the chance of burn out (or peaking too early). Tune-up races are encouraged to practice transitions, pacing, nutrition, etc but with this comes removing pressure of "what if I qualify" for another race, PR's or specific time goals. Consider tune-up races as part of the bigger picture. 

-You can't control life but if you have a stable life (ex. a routine with family/work, etc.), consider races that work with your "normal" life. If your job/family requires more from you at certain times of the year, that is a big sign that you should not be peaking for a race during that time. Sure, it can be done but it's a short line to balance on to ensure that you do not get injured, burn out or too fatigued. 

-Ever athlete wants to peak at the right time. Be sure not to put too much pressure on yourself that you have to PR at every race. Keep your focus on your season goal that means the most to you. If you are aiming to qualify for a World or National event or place on the podium or PR, all of your training and racing should be designed in a way that you have the opportunity to put that hard work to the test, when it counts. 

-I am constantly finding athletes racing on courses that are not best suited for their strengths. There's nothing wrong with stepping outside of the comfort zone but before you sign up for a race because it is local or a race because it is a destination, do your research to ensure that things like weather, terrain, altitude, travel logistics, competition, etc. will not negatively affect your performance. You deserve to do well in your races based on your prior dedication to training so be sure to pick a race that suits your strengths. Additionally, if you love the course that you get to race on and you know it's the "right" course for you, you will find yourself with less stress/anxiety going into the race. 

-As an age group athlete, it's unlikely that your life revolves just around you. You have responsibilities, bills to pay and it's hard to balance it all. Racing triathlons (and training) is expensive and cutting corners does not give better positive outcomes. Embrace the journey which requires time, patience and the ability to understand how your body adapts to training stress. 

-Avoid haphazard training. Your training plan should have a purpose, just like your workouts. If you want to be a runner, train like a runner. If you want to be a triathlete, dedicate your training to three sports so that by race day you are strong enough in each discipline to put everything together. 

-Be extremely careful when it comes to planned or unplanned races. Every time you "last minute" decide to do a race, it has the potential to impact your training and health. Furthermore, if you have a race on your schedule that you feel you are not prepared for (or in the best health), it's always better to play it smart than risk long term damage to your season or health.  
Before every season, Karel and I develop a ATP (Annual Training Plan) for every one of our athletes which maps out the entire season and along with the scheduling of races (and priorities), we have a tentative plan written out as to when the athletes will build, recover, peak and taper as well as any other potential conflicts such as vacations, travel/work events, family obligations, etc. This way, we are able to create a training plan that is specific to our athletes goals and to help our athletes peak appropriately. This ATP is never set in stone for when it comes to one-on-one coaching, we are constantly adjusting training when life happens. 

-Having raced triathlons competitively as an age group endurance athlete for the past 8 years, finished 8 IM's (with 3 recent PR performances) and won a few races (2012 Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon overall winner, Branson 70.3 overall female amateur, HITS Ocala half ironman overall female) I have also had my share of races where I have learned and grown from a race performance. I never put race expectations on myself that are so big that I am hard on myself for not being more prepared. If I have a plan, I know where I am going and even if training doesn't go as planned on the plan, I still focus on how I can keep myself moving forward. Ultimately, every race day plan is based on my current level of fitness ON race day. 
A successful performance can be defined in many ways and many times, it does not happen when an athlete chases a finishing time. I encourage you to plan a racing schedule that allows you to peak at the race that maters the most and if there are two key races on your schedule, be sure you understand how to structure your training so that you can excel when it really matters. Many times this means scheduling breaks in your season so that you avoid overtraining and burnout. I see far too many athletes put in so much work in training (along with spending lots of money) and they are unable to put the training to the test on race day. Now, there are many situations as to why an athlete may not perform to an optimal level on race day (and it's not always within your control) but your odds of reaching success are much greater if you have a plan so you know, not only where you are going but also when your hard work will eventually get to pay off. 

Happy Race Season Planning!